The former Republican Party has made explicit that it’s path to white nationalism is now complete. Strangely enough, the coup won’t be Trump maintaining power over a duly elected President Biden. It will be that the only major political opposition to those who seek governance based on sane institutions and values of democracy has forsaken truth and democracy both. Alternative facts weren’t new. They were the Trump restatement of the old snake oil that poisons truth itself with the cultic assertions of well-defined eco-system.
Why does the MAGA base believe Trump’s tweet delusions and what keeps them going down this path? I think we can set aside the elected toadies in Congress and elsewhere for the moment: the only they care about is re-election. Their job is more important than the truth or their country: they fear the Leader. But why does the need for delusion cut so deeply?
The key is the link to evangelical Christianity and its long reach. Let us first remind ourselves that low information and the quality of information that envelops these communities and conversations is all they know. But even if there is more familiarity with other news, these claims and conspiracies are what they deem to be true. The rest is not only false but beyond the pale, the work of evil people committed to the end of their rightful Christian nation. Theirs is an entitlement: America is their white Christian nation and it is being lost.
Trump advances a newer version of the tired, fictional, deeply dangerous and corrupting Lost Cause narrative that fostered the post-Reconstruction effort to use grievance to resist obedience to (new) law or provoke any meaningful change. We have wildly underestimated the number of rural white people who have been taught to dismiss, scapegoat, and project their grievances on people of color and others perceived to be threatening to their status quo or entitlement to power. That kind of racist, nationalist fervor is deeply tied to the _ethos_ of Christian apocalypticism, _even for those who don’t make a point of espousing such doctrine. The world is ending and the devil is at the bottom of it all. We must stop “them.” Ours is the righteous cause.
My point is that one doesn’t have to make this overtly religious—though even the most cursory look at the closed media and information spheres tells you that it is front and center. Let us not forget that Christianity began as a apocalyptic movement on the fringe that used aggrieved martyrdom as recruitment tools and evidence of their righteous cause.
Going to the fringe and living in a kind of isolation, a world of alternative facts and predictions and beliefs, is their _normal_ state of affairs. To deny science is to reinforce the claim to their own forms of sacred knowledge that must fight forces of secular evil. To extend the claim of that knowledge from discussions of the afterlife and the end of the world to a politics of nihilism and self-asserted truth is stock in trade, nothing unusual. Ask Constantine. He too understood the power of religion to create empire.
Given how our systems and institutions were created to protect minority rights and prejudice in favor of minority rule, we can expect Republicans will go to _any_ fringe, the new QAnon class in Congress is just the beginning. The crazier it is, the more likely it will be elected in worlds in which there is little to stop the cycles of disinformation and aggrieved claims that the faithful elect must rise up to prevent the work of those representing the devil.
Of course the end of the world is always coming, particularly tomorrow and then tomorrow, but what makes this plausible is that it makes its adherents feel better _today_. There is still hope that we will be marched into the promised land by the one who truly knows the way. Trumpism is not going away anytime soon no matter what Trump does.
And if you think that the end of the world message is a little contrary to the hope it engenders, remember that this hope for savior and salvation comes to the worthy, to the unyielding, to those who know their rightful place in God’s kingdom. They also know that they will be berated, insulted by “elites” and voices of secular evil, and that their persecution and pain is tempered by their willingness to “rise up.” This was the language of a Trump appointee this morning in response to the evil governor of Michigan addressing the pandemic with new measures based on science. The language was in perfect religious code.
Now reduce any or all of this to a particular issue—-coal, guns, abortion, police, immigration—and you can focus in on smaller groups, demographics and locations, individuals in their trucks with the constant barrage and, well, now it’s _easy_. The larger end of the world that must be stopped is _your_ issue and it can be the sole reason to vote and certainly enough reason to join the crusade.
How do we avoid this madness from seizing power? The bad news is that it has, in some form or another, always been in power in America. Every effort to progress and compromise is likely to be rebuffed, ignored, or actively obstructed. “Constitutionalism” will mean that anything not explicitly stated or interpreted as they see fit will be delegitimized. Biden will never really be President for some 30% or more?
We are in for a very, very rough ride and democracy itself is on the line. I think Joe is going to need all of the sane people to care, no matter what their politics.